AN application to release six Eurasian lynx into the Kielder Forest has been bombed out by secretary of state, Michael Gove.

In a letter to the Lynx UK Trust, Mr Gove stated that after taking expert advice, he had decided not to grant a licence for the proposed trial lynx release in Northumberland, from where the predator would have been able to migrate north across the border with Scotland.

Mr Gove wrote: "Natural England concluded that the application does not meet the necessary standards set out in the IUCN guidelines and fails to give confidence that the project could be completed in practical terms or that the outputs would meet the stated aims. As a result Natural England found that the proposal lacked the necessary depth and rigour to provide confidence it would succeed."

Lynx UK Trust had claimed that reintroducing the predator would bring benefits such as helping to control deer over-population, reducing damage to forests and improving the habitat for smaller animals.

However, sheep farmers and conservation groups fiercely criticised the proposals, saying that after more than 1000 years of their local extinction, neither the UK's natural environment nor its livestock would be prepared for the return of lynx.

Mr Gove's rejection terms suggested that the reintroduction project lacked 'organisational resilience' and did not sufficiently evidence a securely held budget, as it was unclear how its proposals would be funded, including how an 'exit strategy' would be executed.

The news was wholeheartedly welcomed by the National Sheep Association. Chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA first raised its concerns with Natural England in March 2015, so nearly four years ago when the release was first suggested and has been leading the charge ever since. Today’s announcement shows the effectiveness of our working with local farmers and community groups that share our concerns. The threat of the lynx against sheep was very real and we could not be happier that this isn’t a risk our members will have to face.”

NFU Scotland environment and land use policy manager, Andrew Midgely, said: “The decision will come as a great relief to our members in the Borders, particularly sheep farmers who had serious concerns over the health and safety of their livestock had these plans been given the green light.

“It is clear from the secretary of state’s letter that there was insufficient, if any, engagement with farmers, landowners and the wider community and that the concerns of farmers were not meaningfully addressed.”

Former NFU leader and local spokesman, Malcolm Corbett, from Dykehead Farm, Rochester, welcomed the 'common-sense' shown by Natural England and the government.

"This rewilding debate is an increasingly serious issue for the whole of the rural community, but especially for farmers," said Mr Corbett. "Kielder was never a suitable area for what was being proposed and I'm sure farmers on both sides of the border are happy with the decision. However, this doesn't mean that the rewilding debate will go away, but it is certainly a positive move."

As The Scottish Farmer went to press, Lynx UK Trust was unavailable for comment.